‘The way I heard about why I was chosen for this part,’ Smith begins, ‘was that Barry and his wife were lying in bed going through the script and she sat up in the bed after she finished reading and screamed: “Will Smith!"’
‘As it turns out she continues to yell “Will Smith” in bed, and I think she just loves the movie that much,’ quips Sonnenfeld in return. Smith will upstage him. inevitably, but Sonnenfeld has his own sense of humour.
Smith was a rapper at twelve and a millionaire at twenty. He created the title character of NBC hit series The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air without any acting experience and has since taken starring roles in Six Degrees Of Separation. Bad Boys and Independence Dav. Now there is Men In Black — a sci-fi comedy that sees Smith and Jones partner up to combat illegal aliens of the cosmic variety. Smith is also working on a new album with his old partner Jeff Townes with whom he won two Grammy awards as DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. The actor is 28—years-old.
Perhaps his attitude to life is best summed up by the title of his I989 Grammy nominated song ‘I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson’. A story that has found its way into print is that of Smith and an 80ft cliff. Standing at the edge of it one day. next to the ‘Danger’ sings, Smith realised he was scared of the drop. like any normal human being. He took a llying leap off the cliff simply because he couldn’t swim.
Smith is equally bold when it comes to sticking his neck out against prevailing opinions. The subject raised, he sticks up for Mike ‘Ear-biter’ Tyson. ‘I watched the light at Barry’s [Sonnenfeld’sl house. and I brought five or six of my friends over, so the negro quotient was a little higher at Barry’s house than it might usually be. It was a really emotional thing. because I love Mike. I want Mike to win. not necessarily the fight, but in life. and it was a horribly emotional moment.‘
‘Literally. I thought they were going to start breaking chairs and things.‘ says Sonnenfeld. adding: ‘I think Will could beat Mike.’
‘No!’ says Smith.
‘But I’d like to watch you try!’
Smith did all the stunts on Men In Black himself. bttt had a rule. ‘Wc made Barry aware of my rule. I’ll do all the stunts. but at any moment my buddy Tron realises that I’ve been injured he’s been instructed to knock you the fuck out.’
Luckily for Sonnenfeld the stunts went much to plan — ‘Tron didn’t have to “stretch” me. the director confirms — but Smith was nearly hurt when Tommy Lee Jones drove off before he was properly inside a car.
‘Tommy Lee almost killed me,’ says Smith. ‘but he didn’t. so it was okay. What happened was I went to get in the car and Tommy Lee starts driving ol’f with me hanging out of the car. A grip jumps in front of the car making Tommy come to a halt and Tommy starts to yell at the grip that he had no right to do that.’
One gets the impression that Tommy Lee Jones can be quite difficult at times. ‘You know. I think that difficulty is a press thing. because we had a great time.’ says Smith. ‘Barry Sonnenfeld claims to be the best shoe kicker in the world. He says he can put his shoe on the tip of his foot and flick it accurately anywhere within 30 yds. So we set
Monster squad: Will Smith. Rip Torn. Tommy Lee Jones and alien buddy keep the Earth safe
up a trash can and Barry’s kicking for an hour - nowhere near the trash can. Tommy Lee Jones walks on set, never opens his mouth.
observes what Barry’s doing. pulls his shoe off
onto the toe of his foot, kicks it 30 yds into the trash can and says: “Good mornin‘ y’all. Will one of y’all go and get that shoe for me please?" Things like that were happening all the time. We had a lot of fun.‘
When quoting Jones. Smith puts on a Texan drawl and for Sonnenfeld. a nasal whine. Sitting beside him. the director doesn’t blink when he is parodied. but it is clear Smith gets away with murder because he is funny. Not that Sonnenfeld has any reason to
‘I watched the Mike Tyson fight . . . It was a really emotional thing, because I love Mike. I want him to win, not necessarily the fight, bUt in life.’ Will Smith
feel threatened. He is enjoying a run of hit films. from his directorial debut The Addams Family. to Get Shorty and the current release Men In Black — a huge success in the States. Before these he was an acclaimed cinematog- rapher, working for the Coen brothers among others.
Steven Spielberg is an executive producer on Men In Black and Smith and Sonnenfeld refer to him with a certain awe — though it is played up for laughs. ‘Steven Spielberg called me at home.’ says Smith. ‘I was sitting around in my underwear and I didn‘t feel it was right to talk to him in my underwear so I got dressed and then he sent a helicopter for me to bring me ottt to East Hampton. That’s where he — and Barry - both live.’ Pointing at Sonnenfeld. he adds: ‘He actually lives near Steven Spielberg.‘
‘No. Steven lives near me,’ retorts Sonnenfeld. The prospect of working close to the legendary director of ET was another
MEN IN BUOK
matter, however. ‘I really didn’t want to work with Steven Spielberg at all,’ he says. ‘I was scared because I knew I’d always be looking over my shoulder thinking: “Would Steven want this much goo on Will, or this much?” It was horrible.’
But Spielberg had his uses. ‘He was great,’ continues Sonnenfeld. ‘Especially in post-production. The computer aliens took a year to do and were very difﬁcult and these guys doing them don’t really understand comedy performance. They understand pixels. And at some point in every shot I’d say: “Tomorrow what I’d like you to do . . .” And they’d say: “Sorry, this shot can’t get better.” And then I’d go: “Okay, I’m just going to show it to Steven . . “Oh, no no no!” they’d yell. So Steven was like this 800 lbs gorilla whenever I needed him.’
It seems fair to assume some people, Will Smith included, get where they are by refusing to be scared of anything or anyone. The rise and rise of the Fresh Prince is set to continue. Forthcoming films include The Wild Wild West — which again teams him up with Sonnenfeld — and a biopic of Muhammad Ali.
‘lt’s really tempting to keep making big blockbuster kind of films, but I want to try other things,’ says Smith. ‘Things that take a little more acting and preparation.’
‘You were doing a lot of acting,’ interjects Sonnenfeld.
‘No, no, I was Barry. But there’s a different kind . . .’
‘l‘ve got to disagree,’ interrupts Sonnenfeld. ‘The hardest acting is comedy.’
‘Really‘.’ Wow,’ exclaims Smith, as if it had never occurred to him he might be doing something difficult.
Men In Black goes on general release on Fri 1 Aug. See review, page 35.
25 Jul-5 Aug 1997 rususn